Over 10,000 drug deaths in BC since public health emergency declared

In 2016, British Columbia declared a public health emergency in response to an alarming rise in deaths from drug overdoses.

In the years since, very little has changed, and over 10,000 people have lost their lives to illicit substance use.

On Monday, officials held a press conference headlined by peer clinical advisor and former addict Guy Felicella.

“Six years ago nearly 1,000 people in the province died from illicit drug supply in a single year,” Felicella began, adding that, “today, the same number of people have died in just half the time.”

According to preliminary data released by the BC Coroners Service on Tuesday, at least 1,095 people have died as a result of illicit substance use since January 2022, which Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said puts BC “on track for a record loss of life” yet again.

Felicella took aim at the unregulated drug supply, which he suggested has “become more dangerous and more unpredictable” in the past six years.

“We’re not doing enough and it’s killing people,” he lamented. “For years it’s been little more than incremental changes, pilot project here, and few treatment bed there, nothing substantial has changed to our laws, to our policies, and it’s leading to so many more deaths.”

Felicella noted that BC is experiencing an “illicit drug toxicity crisis,” not an addiction crisis, adding that there has not yet been a viable alternative to illicit drugs presented to users.

He blamed lawmakers of perpetuating “stigma and discrimination” against drug addicts, calling them out for not passing legislation to address the real problems.

According to Global News, while the majority of deaths have occurred in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, there has been an uptick in places as Lillooet, Terrace, Powell Rive, and Cariboo Chilcotin.

In May, the BC government announced that possession of small amounts of illicit substances would be decriminalized, in an attempt to remove the criminal element of drug use so as to shift to a healthcare-based approach.

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